Internet users rely on search engines to make sense of the web and bring them the best results. But how do search engines like Google tell which results are best?
In this article, we talk about three critical aspects that play a vital role in SEO: authority, relevance, and trust.
Read on to find out more about each of these essential aspects and learn how to implement them to develop a fantastic SEO strategy.
Search engines are designed to connect users with authoritative sources that include answers to their questions.
For example, if we’re looking for an answer to a question about physics, a well-designed search engine will direct us to sources like online encyclopedias, specialist blogs, and university resources that are relevant to our search term.
Similarly, if we’re looking for a new laptop, the search engine will show us websites where we can read the reviews submitted by real users to help us decide what type of equipment we would like to buy.
Search engines use cases algorithms to find, index, and understand the topics developed on particular websites. Their next step is matching these pages with user search queries to help end users find the information they need.
But to deliver these results, a search engine needs to be able to assess the authority of pages for a given query, as well as its relative authority for a given topic.
So how do search engines evaluate page authority?
Modern search engines take hundreds of different factors into account when evaluating the authority of webpages. The most important of them are website content and links.
First, search engines read and analyze the content and other features of the website. The next step is associating relevant topics with the page. Search engines are able to analyze the language, structure, and other features of websites that assess how thoroughly it addresses a given topic and whether it’s helpful to a visitor. When the search engine is done with the job and understands the page, the page is added to its index.
The next step is assessing the external links that validate its level of authority. In fact, links served as the primary signal used for authority assessment since the days of PageRank invented by Google founders, Larry Page and Sergei Brin. Search engines make treat links like scholarly citations. In academia, the higher the number of papers relevant to the topic of the source document that cite it, the higher the authority of the source document. The same holds true for the internet. If a webpage is linked to by other pages that hold high authority, the page will rank higher in search results.
How do search engines use links to assess authority and how to gain authority for your website?
The web is full of websites that may be connected to each other through links. By putting a link on your website, you risk that a user leaves your site. That’s why quality publishers only link to another site if it brings great value to users. That’s why linking to a third-party page works like an endorsement that designates the page as a valuable source of information on a given topic.
Naturally, the more such links a website gets, the more authoritative it becomes in the eyes of search engines – and consequently ranks higher in search results.
Now, you might be thinking that the more links your page gathers, the better. But in reality, the quality and relevance of websites linking to your page are important as well.
Consider this example:
Imagine that you have page that sells a book. The page receives two links: one from a blog written by a book lover and another one from Amazon. It’s clear that the Amazon link will be valued as a more authoritative by users, simply because Amazon has more authority on the topic then a small, obscure blog. The search engines work exactly like that.
Search engines always look for relevance.
It doesn’t matter how many links your book-themed page gathers from other pages – you will never rank high for keywords related to topics like laptops or airplane tickets. That’s why relevance is so significant.
For example, if your page gets a link from a specialist magazine that reviews with literature, you can be sure that the link will be seen as highly relevant. It’s just very likely that this magazine has high expertise in the topic.
However, the same won’t be true if the website that links to your page is about used cars. How helpful would that link be in reality? Probably not much. That’s because search engines will note the lack of relevance between the two sources and consider a link as less valuable simply because the source isn’t an expert on the topic.
So how can you learn the merit of a page?
In the past, Google made a version of PageRank available to users – but that’s no longer the case. SEO experts use third-party metrics such as Domain Authority and Page Authority from Moz, or the Citation Flow from Majestic. All these tools do an excellent job of helping us evaluate the page.
Remember that all these tools are based on back-engineered estimates of how authoritative a domain or page is seen by Google and not actual representations of PageRank used by Google. They’re not able to crawl the entire internet so instead, they focus on discovering a large sample of links to a given page.
That’s where anchor text comes in
Google uses the anchor text to make sure that the content on the page that receives the link is relevant.
For example, if the text is the phrase “Content marketing” and the page includes content on the topic, the anchor text together with the link serves to confirm further that the page is indeed about the topic. That way, links evaluate both the authority of the page but also its relevance.
Expert tip: If you’re tempted to launch an aggressive SEO campaign where you obtain links to your page that use your main key phrase as the anchor text, better be careful. Google has its eyes open for any signs of manual links manipulation. And it has powerful analytics capabilities that allow it to tell that if your anchor text was manually manipulated.
That’s where the third critical factor – trust – comes in.
The entire discussion about trust in SEO was initiated because of Yahoo’s patent on the concept of TrustRank. The idea behind it was starting out with a seed set of highly trusted websites and then count the number of clicks it would take to go from these websites to yours. The fewer clicks it took, the more trusted your site was.
Google has been saying for a long time that they’re not using that type of metric. However, this spring Google was granted a patent related to processes which aim to evaluate the trustworthiness of links. Just because they were granted this patent doesn’t mean that it’s being used now.
But it’s smart to assess the trustworthiness of a website before trying to obtain a link from it. The idea of trusted links is beneficial in SEO campaigns.
So how do you tell whether a website is trustworthy?
Here are some signs you should look out for in websites that can’t be trusted:
While Google may not be taking that factor into account in their analysis, the chances are high that another aspect of such an untrustworthy website will cause your link to lose value anyway. That’s why it’s worth consider trust into account when planning your link building activities.
Now that you know how authority, relevance, and trust are important to SEO, have a look at how you can use that knowledge to your advantage when developing your SEO strategy.
How to apply authority, relevance, and trust in your SEO strategy
Google wants the process of link building to be relevant and holistic – and that means that these practices will be seen as dangerous (and you should avoid them):
- Invading forums and blogs to only add comments with linkbacks to your site,
- Buying links for SEO purposes,
- Distributing poor quality content that includes a linkback to your page,
- Offering affiliate programs or discount codes to get links,
- Hacking sites and injecting your links into a website’s content (yes, that happens!).
Ultimately, what Google wants to see from you is a fantastic website, a smart promotion strategy, and excellent content that gathers you links naturally.
So here’s what you need to do:
Authority – Create expert content that solves the problems of your target audience. By sharing your experience and insight, you will position yourself as a thought leader in your sector who has something to say and experience to share. Nothing works better than expert content that offers practical examples, use cases, and scenarios your audience can learn from or even implement. If you manage to solve these problems, you can be sure that your content is engaging and gains a lot of shares.
Relevance – To establish relevance for your website, start with guest blogging. Publishing content in media sites that covers your niche. That way you’ll boost your reputation as an expert and gain additional visibility. Moreover, most of these media sites offer an attribution link to be placed at the bottom of each article. You will also receive an author bio that links back to your website. Bylined articles are an amazing help in driving SEO benefits for your website. However, be sure to focus on the best of the best media sites for your niche.
Trust – Developing a place for yourself in the ecosystem of your niche is the best way to gain the trust of your audience. You can do that by helping others out on social media and in groups, responding to comments, sharing your knowledge in non-commercial presentations, attending local events and conferences, and being an active contributor to your community.
Have you got any questions about these three critical SEO factors: authority, relevance, and trust?
Share your thoughts in comments to start a conversation about best practices in SEO.